South Korea: Gay pride parade in Seoul draws record number

Tens of thousands of people marched through central Seoul on Saturday to stand up for equality for sexual minorities in South Korea’s biggest pride parade, despite vocal opposition from anti-gay protesters.

Despite sporadic rain, 85,000 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their supporters gathered at Seoul Plaza, rally organizers said. It was the largest crowd that the pro-gay event, held as part of the Korea Queer Culture Festival, has attracted since the inaugural event in 2000. Last year’s parade, the previous record-setter, had drawn about 50,000.

“I am happy that I can finally express who I really am. I am surprised that so many people came here because I usually don’t see openly gay people around me,” said a 22-year-old university student, a lesbian who only wanted to be identified by her surname Park.

“I haven’t told my parents or friends about my sexuality,” she said. “I would have no friends if I came out of the closet. I would feel excluded. People would see me differently.”

While homosexuality is not a crime in South Korea, LGBT people live largely on the fringes of society, as the majority of Koreans remain intolerant of homosexuality. Conservative Protestant groups here typically oppose homosexuality, believing it is sin and a condition that can be cured.

Even left-leaning President Moon Jae-In -- formerly a human rights lawyer -- said that he “opposed homosexuality” on his presidential election campaign trail in April. This year’s pride parade came amid growing calls for the abolishment of a gay ban in the military after the military court in May sentenced a gay solider to six months in jail, suspended for a year, for having consensual sex with a soldier of the same sex in a private place.

“I feel that Korean society is changing to embrace differences, given that so many people came here today despite the heavy rain,” said Kang Myeong-jin, who has headed the organizing committee for the Korea Queer Culture Festival since 2010. 

“I cannot say I am not mad at anti-gay protesters, but it is not their fault. They just cannot accept drastic changes,” he said, citing a need for the Korean government to play a bigger role in raising awareness and enforcing policies banning discrimination against LGBT people. Read more via Korea Herald